I traveled with my family of four on the Ruby Princess for its Christmas Cruise to Hawaii. We flew from Oklahoma the night before the cruise was to debark and had done 'massive' preparation for the trip. We packed seven checked-in bags plus carry-ons. We marked each piece of checked luggage with bright green duct tape on the sides, top and handles, and made luggage tags out of candy-cane red striped paper slipped inside of plastic nametag holders and connected to the bags with zip ties. This made identifying our bags in the busy LAX airport very easy. We did have to pay for a luggage cart in a couple of places due to the number of bags, but we needed the extra items packed this time (more to come on that later).
As our cruise was scheduled the day that the new Star Wars movie was to come out, we decided to stay in Hollywood and go to the Disney-owned El Capitan theatre (across from the Chinese Theatre on the Walk of Fame) for a midnight showing of the movie. We bought these tickets online a couple of months earlier to ensure we'd have a seat. We rented a car and drove to Hollywood and parked at the highland mall to have access to the Lowes hotel, which is extremely nice and freshly renovated. The lobby of the hotel was filled with an amazing display of decorated gingerbread houses, which we really enjoyed looking through. Warning on this is that there's someone to pull your bags out of the car, and another porter (who won't take no for an answer) to whisk your bags up to your room. We spent $14 on tips before we got to the first night. Because we got in so late, we got a free upgrade to a huge room with a great view of the walk of fame. We got back from the movie and viewing the extensive prop and costume collection on display at El Capitan at about 3 AM.
The next morning we did the short, 2-hour Paramount Studios tour, and enjoyed the short drive from Hollywood to the studio. The tour was really fun, with a tour guide driving us all over the backlots with stops to get out and see sound stages, prop rooms, a museum, the employee theatre, and backlot locations like the area that makes up New York City and more. They offer a four hour tour but we didn't want to be rushed for getting to the port.
We had planned to get to the port at the beginning of debarkation and I would drop my husband and one kid off at the port with all the luggage, and drop the car off at the San Pedro location of the Hertz rental car, just a few blocks away. We did this and then Hertz dropped us off at the port for free.
After having read numerous reviews about embarkation and the perks suite guests get, including priority embarkation and a suite lounge to wait, we were expecting to walk in, check in, and walk on board. We gave the porters our 7 bags and 7 dollars and went inside to an absolute madhouse. The entire building was completely full and we had to literally climb through and over people to find the check in area for suite passengers. Once we fought our way to the entrance of checkin it was smooth, but we were notified that at 1 pm there were still hundreds of passengers on the Ruby due to some immigration issue. We inquired about the suite lounge and the guest services lady said it would be completely overflowing if we could even get there. We were basically directed to 'find any spot we could' and wait. We waited over an hour before the passengers holding Black Elite / Suite cards were allowed to embark, so this was not a great start. (note, when we got home, I saw that Princess did email us during the morning of embarkation to let us know of the delay, but we weren't checking email that day.) However, once we crossed that gangway to the ship, magic happened.
We walked into the piazza of the Ruby Princess, completely decked out with Christmas trees, garland, lights and three singers dressed in 1940's singer costumes in red and white singing lovely Christmas songs. At that moment, I felt the stress from the awful embarkation experience drain from my soul. We immediately caught an elevator and made our way to D101/105, the family suite on Dolphin Deck 9 to find a lovely, large group of rooms waiting for us, fresh from dry dock with amazing new beds.
As other reviewers stated, the family suites are all the way at the forward end of the ship and there are two entries to the suite. One entry goes to the master bedroom with what felt like a king-size bed, a large closet and full bathroom. The other entry went into basically an interior room for the kids with twin beds and twin berths overhead, and a half bath, with two closets. Both bathrooms had a suite amenities bag, including some lotion, a loofa, gel eye cover, sunscreen, emory boards. Other amenities in the rooms included canvas totebags to keep, sewing kits to keep, fluffy robes to borrow, disposable spa slippers, notepads, and pens.
Both rooms had desks with chairs and their own flat-screen TV's, refrigerators with ice buckets filled; they were connected by a family / living room with two love-seat sized couches that have seen better days and were not comfortable for long sits. There was also one sitting chair and a small table. There was a ton of storage nooks and crannies all over the suite, so much that we left a majority of the cabinets unused, which says a lot since we packed so much.
The family room had a curved wall and then a sliding glass door out to the extremely oversized balcony with four chairs, a table, and two footstools. The chairs were not in my opinion, any kind of upgraded furniture for suite guests, so that was a bit of a disappointment, but the balcony location is directly under the bridge and with the best views of the sea and port anywhere on the boat. The downside of this suite is that it's on the front of the ship and there is no glass on the forward side of the balcony. We thoroughly enjoyed the balcony on port days and spent all our sailaways there, but on sea days the wind was very heavy (up to 40 knots some evenings), this particular balcony was so windy that we had to flip the furniture over because it was flying around. We recommended to the cruise line that they add a glass wall to the front to the expensive room's balcony could be usable on sea days.
We had planned to eat lunch in the main dining room while all the other passengers fought their way through the horizon buffet. Unfortunately due to the lateness of disembarkation and embarkation there truly was no MDR open for lunch. We called dining reservation to book our complementary night at the Crown Grill (suite perk) and then left to get a piece of pizza to hold us over. One thing that was frustrating was that the time for the muster drill changed a couple of times, making it hard to plan for dinner, and getting showered, beforehand. One other thing we noticed about the ever-changing muster drill times was that these were being announced by a person with such broken English that we caught ourselves saying, 'what?' to each other to figure out the announcements, and we'd recommend to the cruise line that safety information be delivered in clear English in the future.
We made it through muster drill, which was unlike we'd had on other cruiselines where you actually go to your lifeboat and put on your jacket. Here we met in the extremely crowded princess theatre and listened to announcements and then stood up to wriggle our way into lifejackets while trying not to elbow our neighbors. But it was over soon enough and we raced back to the room for the Crown Grill.
The suite perk of a complementary entry fee to the specialty restaurants on embarkation day should not be left unused. The food and service in the crown grill is impeccable, and the food selection are amazing. At our table of four we had a huge tray of lobster tails, salads, steaks for three people, and prawns for the fourth. Everything was cooked perfectly and was a wonderful meal to celebrate the start of an amazing cruise. We also did not have to dress very nice that first night since luggage had not been delivered, although we all had on long pants and blouses/collared shirts since we packed them in carry ons along with our bathing suits.
After dinner our luggage had arrived and I unpacked as much as possible. We already had two rounds of dirty laundry so we started the process of cataloguing and sacking up the laundry bags to take advantage of another suite perk - free laundry and dry cleaning. We also sent out all our formalwear for the trip to be dry cleaned and pressed for the first formal night. We sent laundry out six times during the trip and watched bills be added and removed on our stateroom account throughout the cruise. At the end I noted that we'd gotten over $500 in free laundry/cleanig services on the trip. All the laundry came back clean, pressed, and hung or folded, and had a little itchy label identifying us ironed inside each piece. I highly recommend taking advantage of this suite perk.
Back to dining. On the first few days of the cruise, we ate breakfast all over the ship, including the buffet, room service and the international grill, but then we decided to try the suite perk of private-ish dining (only other suite passengers) in the crown grill. Immediately we knew we'd made a mistake by not doing this every day. The Maitre'd checked our name and room number one time and then recognized and greeted us each morning. This became one of the highlights of the trip - wonderful, personal service, fun conversations with wait staff, and really good coffee. We ordered things both on and off the menu, but highlights were the massive amounts of amazing bacon served, beautiful crustless French toast, fruit plates, and omelets with any ingredient you like. We enjoyed this part of the trip, and the same two or three waitstaff each morning that I actually cried on the last day of suite breakfast. (They give free mimosas at suite breakfast too, but we usually didn't have them.) From that first discovery, we only had breakfast there unless it was a port day with an early shore excursion meet time. On disembarkation day there was no suite breakfast but suite passengers were allowed to have room service, so we did that.
On our room service mornings, we ordered ungodly amounts of food to feed four people and the waitstaff a;ways had it there at the beginning of the service time we'd requested. To. The. Minute. They would come in, set out a table cloth and then lay down the food and leave after getting a small tip. We had nice conversations with the same waitstaff each morning and became friends with this young lad as well.
For lunches, we mostly did pizza, hotdogs/hamburgers and the buffet. I think we ate in a MDR one time for lunch but that takes a lot of time so we preferred to grab and go for lunchtime. The hamburgers on the ship are the best around, so don't miss out on that.
Dinners we had anytime dining and enjoyed the MDRs many nights. The selection and quality of food were good, but dinner was always time consuming. We did the buffet one night at 5, which is officially snack time, not dinner time. This was a mistake and we felt like it was 'scraps' being served. This put us off the buffet for several days until we tried it again one night after 530 and found that it was better food a little later. In the MDRs we did shared/social tables a lot and actually enjoyed meeting people who've traveled all over. We did not expect to enjoy that, so it was a good surprise. The desserts including the chocolate journeys, were all pretty much perfect and delicious. For Christmas they served turkey and dressing along with a large selection of really nice dishes. On New Year's eve, they served prime rib, escargot, several nice fish dishes, among other tasty treats. They also passed out hats and party favors, which was a nice touch.
On drinks. there are perpetual coffee, tea, hot water machines in the buffet, and you can order lemonade for free in the buffet as well. The coffee in the buffet is NOT the same as room service or the MDR/suite breakfast and is frankly, awful. We came to call it, 'sludge.' If you're a coffee drinker, we recommend having it delivered via room service along with free hot chocolate for the kiddies, served in cute teapots. Our kids also got the drink cards and went to the international cafe for mocktails and hot chocolate numerous times. They probably paid for the drink cards 3x over, so we'd do that again. We bought about ten drinks in bars over the course of the cruise and spent a little over $100 on that. We also took advantage of the free mini-bar that started with 2 courvosiers, 2 vodkas, 2 gins, and 2 whiskeys, along with 2 beers, 2 perriers and 2 bottled waters (another suite perk). We did leave a note for our room steward that we wanted to swap the gins, the perriers for other things and he changed them out on his next visit.
This leads me to the Room Steward, who was amazing and friendly. Not a lot to say other than we had a perfect experience with him. We did wrap a Christmas gift for him and gave a little cash in a card on Christmas morning. It turns out he is from the Phillipines with a wife and young son at home. Our room was thoroughly cleaned and we enjoyed visiting with him.
We got corsages and boutonnieres delivered free (suite perk) on the first formal night, enjoyed canapes in the room, and chocolates delivered on formal nights as well.
One other thing on the room. As promised, here's why we had so much luggage. We packed a Christmas tree, room decorations, magnetized door decorations for two doors, tinsel, lights, stockings, Christmas table cloths, unwrapped presents, stocking stuffers, and paper/bags/tissue. We decided to do a regular Christmas. So we took the time to really decorate it up. A lot of other cabins did their doors so that made the trip extra fun. After I wrapped presents, I gave the cabin steward all of the leftover wrapping supplies to share with crew. At the end of the cruise, I left two suitcases worth of decorations, which also got taken downstairs after I discussed it with the cabin steward. I'm so glad we drug extra bags with us to do this.
Things we enjoyed doing on the ship included trivia three times daily, led by the cruise director's staff. Each session was hilarious and entertaining. We also went to a magic show (meh), and then a big production magic show (excellent), a culinary demonstration and galley tour (amazing and funny), karoke night, a blackjack tournament, the casino, movies under the stars, a couple of lectures, hula lessons, the voice of the ocean contest, and just so much more. We also enjoyed binge watching the Love Boat series, showing on the TV's 24 hours a day. My husband is still watching episodes now that we're home. There was so much to do we just couldn't do it all, and that's the way it should be.
My husband and daughter did the behind the scenes tour (highly recommend this). You need to sign up for this on day 1 at passenger services, as it's limited to 12 people. This cruise did a second round on the way back so we got in with our late signup. This tour was about 3 hours in length, cost $150 and was worth every penny to see the bottom floors of the ship, meet the captain, and all kinds of special access things. When they got back, each of them received pictures of them throughout the ship with their tour group and the captain, a frame, a robe, customized stationary. We thought this was a really nice touch.
Our teenage son had the most wonderful trip. The teen club kept him hopping and with friends from afar all day long. There were most days on the ship that we didn't see him and had to set check in times or tell him that x activity/dinner with the family was mandatory. He just had so much fun with the teen hot tub parties, formal nights, video games, etc There's a lot about his trip that we'll never know but we always felt he was safe and out of trouble so c'est la vie.
Our ten year old daughter had sign out privileges of the kids club and she enjoyed the evening movies in there and a few of the daytime activities. They had full schedules but the boat was very full of kids so she often preferred to hang out with us, especially once she started having so much fun at all the trivias. We swam a few times and did hot tubs a few times too.
I used the thermal spa (suite perk) many many days, and loved this free aminity. All but one day I was the only one there. My routine for this was to wake up at 745 and have bathing suit/robe on and be in the hall by 755, spa by 8 when they opened. I'd check in (leave my cruise card) at the spa desk, make my way to the waiting area for massages to get an icy lemon water to take downstairs with me, then I'd shower in a cool fog shower and sit in an aromatherapy grotto for as long as I could stand, shower again, and then fall asleep on the 'rock chairs' (heated chairs), covered in towels. I'd wake myself up snoring and then drag my way back to the room to get ready for the day. There's nice soft music playing in there and it was a great place to reflect and meditate (sleep). If you're a suite passenger, don't miss this perk. I loved the solitude and relaxation.
One other note about the spa - my son got a good haircut on the ship for $35, which was high, but it was a good haircut.
We loved New Year's on the ship, which was a fun, (very formal) night on board. Tuxes and real gowns were the order of the day. We were glad to have these items, as even going to the show would be awkward when not dressed like everyone else. We also participated in a gingerbread house making contest, and had packed a ton of little sweets, lights, and decorations for it. We were disappointed to find we couldn't use the items, scissors or anything else to help us, but it still turned out to be a jolly fun time for all. We were AMAZED to see some of the creations people came up with using only the things provided in the box. As a side note, after the contest the ship put out a huge display of their chef-created gingerbread houses which were unlike any I've ever seen anywhere, so beautiful.
Shore Excursions - we did the volcanoes national park excursion on Hawaii through princes. This was a large bus full of people and a day packed with activities and a lunch. If you want to hike, see a ton of the island in one day, we'd recommend this. Bring your walking shoes and a bottle of water. Also, lunch isn't until 130 or so, so you might want to throw in a protein bar or other packaged item for this excursion. No ship food is allowed offboard.
On Oahu, we rented a car and prearranged for pearl harbor tickets. We spent the morning there then did the dole pineapple plantation (a waste of time in my opinion), drove to the North Shore to watch the surfers enjoy the big wintertime waves (expect heavy, slow traffic full of people in bikinis), and then we drove to Waikiki and spend the last few hours of sun in the lagoons by the Hilton Hawaiian Village. We watched sunset on Waikiki, dropped the boys off at the ship and then the girls went shopping. It rained on an off during this day, but it did not keep us from thoroughly enjoying a convertible and warm weather.
ON Maui Christmas Day, we took a snorkel boat, which was waiting for us at the tender point. Weather was very rough, and the captain couldn't get us to Molokini Crater that day. We instead went to two amazing snorkel sites that were calm and just wonderful, with tons of fish, turtles, eels, rays, etc. We had nice breakfast and lunch on the snorkel boat and went from the boat back to our tender, never really seeing Maui, which was just perfect.
On Kauai, we did the tour of the island in a minibus that took us to all the movie sites. It was a cool setup - the guide had a TV in the front of the bus where he'd show 'so many' clips of scenes filmed in a location while we were driving. Then we'd look up and boom, we'd be at the same spot we'd just seen on screen. Things like gilligan's island, jurassic park, just so many movies made here, for a reason. Kauai is beautiful and the beaches are the best and most beautiful in the world. We saw the entire east half of the island, had a lovely lunch at a local restaurant, and saw the property of many celebrtieis like Bette Midler, Mark Zuckerberg, and also where Elvis had a bungalo at the CocoPalms resort. A very full day that got us back to the ship with minutes to spare before sailaway.
My comment on Hawaii was that we'd like one more day there, made up with faster ship speed or a day tacked on. We didn't have enough time to see it all, especially on Oahu.
We did not get off the ship in Ensenada, which appears to be a poverty-stricken, dirty port that has brown water and heavy industry. I heard from other passengers that they were followed numerous times by families with small children begging and/or selling items, and that they felt not good about this. I'm glad we stayed on the ship, packed and enjoyed our last day of eating too many desserts.
We discovered late in the cruise the cruise messenger service, which you can access free on your iphones. We recommend figuring this out on day 1 to keep track of those in your party. This eliminates the need for walkie talkies and whiteboards, both of which we very rarely saw on this cruise.
What did I forget to pack? A clock - they're rare on the ship. I saw a few outside the elevators, and around the pools. Other than that, you're left to wonder what day and time it is. There is a channel on the ship where it scrolls the ship's position and time, but we sure wished I'd brought that clock.
I would not pack beach towels or snorkel equipment again. We used the excursion's equipment and brought ship's striped towels with us, along with all the other passengers doing water activities.
Disembarkation was well communicated in advance. We asked for a 930 disembarkation and knew where to have luggage when, and where to be (club fusion / suite members). We did have room service that morning, and then enjoyed coffee in the disembarkation lounge while we waited. This was smooth and on time.
We had a wonderful time on this cruise, came back totally disconnected from the real world and with so many fond memories. Other than the few bumps, we'd highly recommend this cruise to families or anyone who wants to be around other travelers for two major holidays. Just a great great cruise. Also, if you think this might be your only time to Hawaii and you can spare the money, we highly recommend getting a suite if there's one available. The perks of the suite breakfast, the thermal spa, priority tenders, free flowers and special chocolates made our trip so special that it was definitely worth it. Read Less